A changing landscape within professional cycling has begun to open doors for women to consider starting a family at the height of their careers. It's no longer taboo for women athletes to discuss pregnancy, and with increasing opportunity and support, some women are now choosing to return to competition after having a child.
World-class athletes Lizzie Deignan, Laura Kenny, Elinor Barker and Marta Bastianelli, are just a handful of women who are paving the way for future generations as they balance pro cycling and motherhood.
The sports’ governing body, the UCI, introduced a minimum salary and maternity leave as part of Women's WorldTour reforms in 2020. More than ever, top-tier teams empower and support women to return to competition after taking time off to start a family, with Trek-Segafredo going above and beyond the existing mandate and paying 100% of their athletes' contracts during maternity leave.
Deignan joined the American outfit in 2018 during her first pregnancy. After the birth of her first child, she successfully came back to professional cycling and made history as the first-ever female winner of Paris-Roubaix last October. The former world champion is expecting her second child and is currently on maternity leave but has already announced her contract extension to return to racing in 2023 and 2024.
"I feel like I still have plenty to give from an athletic standpoint. For me, it was always obvious that if we were able to have another baby, then I would still return to cycling," said Deignan, who balances family life and her cycling career with partner, former professional cyclist Philip Deignan.
"It's the stuff around it; the family life balance that sometimes is difficult to manage, but I also think that we're at the point now, three years after having our daughter, that we know what we're doing, and we feel like we can manage more, and we actually enjoy that."
Marta Bastianelli, a former world champion, became a mother in 2014 and returned to racing that same year. At that time, she had support from team Fiamme Azzurre, the sports section of the Italian police force Polizia Penitenziaria. She currently competes for UAE Team ADQ and selects a calendar of races that works for her team and her responsibilities as a mother.
"It has never been easy to combine the life of being a mother and a wife while also competing at this level, but no one has ever made me think that it would be better to go and do another job," Bastianelli said in an interview with Procycling. "Indeed, if I am here today, it's thanks to my family and military group, who have always supported me. Every victory in a race is a victory for my family. All of the sacrifices that I make, they do it with me."
In the last four seasons, Bastianelli competed in many Spring Classics while carefully selecting stage races to avoid being away from home for long periods. She made every race count with victories at the Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, Ronde van Drenthe, Vårgårda WestSweden and European Championships.
Laura Kenny, who has won five gold medals and a silver medal across three Olympic Games at London 2012, Rio de Janeiro 2016 and Tokyo 2021, took time away from racing to start a family in 2017.
Kenny and her partner Jason, who has earned seven gold medals and two silver medals across four Olympic Games, were awarded dame and knighthoods by the Duke of Cambridge as Great Britain's most decorated Olympians. Despite their remarkable success, Kenny was honest about the struggles they faced as athlete parents.
"I didn't realise how hard it was going to be leaving him behind. You do feel guilty. As a mum and dad, you feel it's your job to solely look after them. And so it is difficult," Kenny said in an interview ahead of the Tokyo Games. "We travel around the world, we're away racing, and there's a lot of time where you're not with them. And I have found it a lot harder than I thought I was going to."
Elinor Barker learned of her pregnancy while competing at the Tokyo Games where she secured the silver medal in the Team Pursuit. The former Olympic gold medallist and five-time World Champion gave birth to her first child this spring and intends to return to racing later this season with full support from her team Uno-X Pro Cycling and she was selected to compete at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in August.
"It's become more expected now that women won't end their careers once they think about having kids. They will have kids, have a small break, and then come back," Barker said.
Barker joined her Uno-X Pro Cycling teammates at a training camp in June where she is preparing for the start of her season. In a series of photos with her three-month-old baby, family and teammates, Barker wrote, “Point of view: your parents’ cycling team lets you come along to a training camp and now you have a bunch of new friends (and babysitters).”
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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.